It is an important position, a part of the Orange County Terrorism Working Group. The group is responsible for ensuring the county’s compliance with U.S. Department of Homeland Security guidelines designed to help local communities prepare for emergencies.
Soto has been doing such a great job that he recently received an award for his efforts—although not the type of award one might expect for someone in such a position.
Soto is the American Staffing Association’s 2007 National Staffing Employee of the Year. Rather than working directly for the county, Soto is a contract employee whose boss is a staffing agency that specializes in finding temporary workers to fill high-tech jobs.
The length of Soto’s open-ended assignment is somewhat unusual, says Amy Roos, senior technical recruiter for Sapphire Technologies, the Woburn, Massachusetts-based tech staffing company that placed Soto. "But with government, a lot of positions are longer term. Often the positions are grant- and project-based. They don’t want to bring someone on as a permanent hire."
While nearly 30 percent of Sapphire’s contract workers have been on their assignments for one year or more, Soto’s three-year tenure is rare. Only 1.5 percent of Sapphire’s 5,000 contract workers have been on the same job for three years or more.
Officials at the Orange County Sheriff’s Department were unavailable to comment on Soto after a real emergency descended on the county: a wildfire outbreak throughout Southern California that scorched thousands of acres, destroyed homes and forced the evacuation of a half-million residents.
Soto, who talked about his position in an interview prior to the fires, said his intent when he took the contract assignment was to gain some experience that he could leverage into a full-time job, perhaps at a private company. But although opportunities came up, he found that he preferred to remain a contract worker.
"This has worked out to my benefit," Soto says. "I picked up a lot more experience."
So far, the county has opted to continue renewing the contract with Soto rather than change the status of the position to full-time employee.
Soto’s route to his current work situation followed a 20-year career in the U.S. Marines. He took military retirement in 1995 and, after completing a training program in computer services in 1997, landed a job with Hewlett-Packard as an entry-level service technician, hauling personal computers to customer locations and setting them up. Soto was looking to make a move into a tech troubleshooter job with more advanced computer networks when a friend suggested that contract tech work might be the solution.
Soto signed up with Sapphire, which placed him in the Orange County position. He has remained there ever since.
The longer he has served in the position, the more he has come to function as a part of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. Rather than just being a contract worker, and only troubleshooting network operations in the department, he also joins in other department activities.
"A lot of times when someone works as a contractor, they clock in their hours and leave and that’s it," Roos says. "But Agapito has taken ownership in the position. He does things like going to the Orange County Fair to participate in the sheriff’s booth—the sorts of things that usually are held for a permanent employee."
Soto says he’s unsure how long his contract position will continue, but for now he’s perfectly satisfied with his situation.
"I have had several offers to go full time," Soto says. "But I like what I am doing, and I like the people I work with."